Pastor Raul Elizondo has seen firsthand the impact that financial struggles have on a family.
“A big percentage of my church grew up in poverty—welfare, food stamps,” says Elizondo. The statistics show they are not alone: one in five American households receives government assistance.
“But those programs are to help temporarily,” continues Elizondo, “not to be a way of life.”
The Federal Reserve has also reported that the average household debt in America is more than double the median household income. Putting the debt problem in a spiritual perspective, Pastor Elizondo says, “We have people that have been freed from sin, but are still slaves to the lender.”
As the pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, Elizondo believes that the church needs to take a holistic approach to teaching and discipleship, and that includes the topic of money.
“A healthy perspective when it comes to our finances can just make a world of difference in our churches. I believe there are a lot of churches struggling because, to be quite honest, we’re afraid to talk about finances in our churches.”
When STCH Ministries’ Jimmy Rodriguez approached Elizondo about hosting a Faith & Finances class at his church, the decision was not a difficult one.
“I said, ‘Yes, sign me up!’”
Over the twelve weeks that followed, STCH Ministries staff conducted the largest Faith & Finances class in our program’s history, with more than forty regular attendees meeting at New Life Baptist Church every Sunday evening. Classes covered biblical truths about money, such as the fact that “the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov. 22:7) and God’s ultimate ownership of everything (Ps 24:1). According to Elizondo, the spiritual focus was one of the defining marks of the program.
“Every Faith & Finances class started in prayer. You felt God in the sessions.”
See Faith & Finances in Action
Pastor Raul Elizondo from New Life Baptist Church shares his perspective on Faith & Finances in this video.
But Faith & Finances is every bit as practical as it is spiritual, teaching participants how to track their spending, get out of debt, and set savings goals. The curriculum follows the story of Eva and Isaac, a fictional couple who learn to manage their dysfunctional finances by applying the principles in each lesson. Just like the real life participants, Eva and Isaac struggle on their journey and sometimes make mistakes. (When the story recounted Eva’s visit to a payday lender, the class at New Life responded with a collective “BOOO!”) But in the end, persistence and self-discipline win the day for Eva and Isaac.
According to Pastor Elizondo, the happy endings were more than just a fairy tale in the Faith & Finances class.
“There were several cases that I would consider great breakthrough. One of them, within a twelve-week span, got rid of most of their credit card debt. They were inspired the first two or three sessions, and I loved it when the lady started sharing her testimony, ‘Me and my husband started talking.’ So not only were they able to accomplish a financial goal, but also a relational goal.”
In another instance, a young woman spoke to her pastor through tears as she realized how her spending habits were resulting in her poverty. “It was a sad moment, but also a positive moment, because I told her, ‘Sister, at least you’ve realized what the problem is now, and I consider that a victory.’”
New Life had used other financial training material before, but Pastor Elizondo found the Faith & Finances curriculum to be more accessible to all participants, regardless of their age or financial background. In fact, one of the star students of the class was also one of the youngest.
Even as a middle schooler, Juan already knows how to work hard for his money. With his parents’ encouragement, he started a lawn care business at the age of eleven to earn extra money for activities he wanted to do. Now at the age of thirteen, he hires his friends to help work on yards in the neighborhood. As Juan made more money, it became more important for him to learn how to handle it.
“What this class is teaching me is to better understand where my money is going and to control it,” Juan says. “Before, I wouldn’t even write it down. If I needed to buy fuel, I would buy fuel. But with this class, it’s teaching me to write it down so I know.”
Armed with a spending plan, Juan is now able to make sure that the fruits of his labor don’t slip away inadvertently.
“Recently I’ve realized that most of my money goes to food because, well, I’m always hungry. So now I’m learning to budget that and keep enough money for a business and even for an [emergency fund].”
Juan’s experience illustrates that it’s never too early to begin learning the principles of biblical money management, just as other participants have seen that it is never too late to change old habits and start doing things God’s way.
At STCH Ministries, Faith & Finances is one of several ministries designed to assist families at the prevention level, before stress and conflict result in the breakup of a home. In the sequence of events that bring residents to our Homes for Children and Homes for Families campuses, financial issues are often a contributing factor. By partnering with local churches, our goal is to strengthen families in the community, who in turn are able to minister to other families.
At New Life Baptist Church, Pastor Elizondo has seen the first fruits of that process, and believes that changing attitudes about finances will pay even greater dividends in faith.
“God wants us to have an abundant life, and I believe that will affect our spiritual maturity, our ability to trust in God, and hopefully change the tide for the next generation as we become more educated, more knowledgeable about the role finances should have in our lives as believers of Christ.”